Before Rihanna There Was Janet

All the talk of Rihanna’s controversial “Man Down” video reminds me so much of one of my favorite performances by Janet Jackson. Back in 1998 the singer was invited to perform her single “Go Deep” at the VH1 Fashion Awards. However, Janet, wanting to tackle a more personal single on her “Velvet Rope” album, chose to instead perform “What About,” a song about domestic abuse.

Janet’s performance that evening turned out to be one of her most legendary, not only because of the topic matter, but because Janet spends over half of the performance on her knees and yet still owns the stage like the ICON she is.

Check out the performance below and note the response of the crowd. The show’s producer would later explain in a documentary about the show how she didn’t want Janet to perform the song fearing it would be a downer for such a lighthearted event. She later conceded that Janet’s performance was one of the most spectacular given at any VH1 event and garnered more positive feedback than any other show or performance ever aired on the channel.


  1. this is an EXCELLENT post! I didn’t even know about this.

  2. I remember watching her performance that night and yes it was spectacular! People now don’t know how to appreciate that kind of talent and what it means to give a commanding performance. Janet has a presence like her brother Michael that’s undeniable. There’s a lot to be said for stage presence and those who have it are never truly appreciated, musically, until they’ve retired or passed on. Such is the way entertainment works in this country.

  3. Wow…
    I missed this performance…it’s wonderful when artists use their platform to address social issues…Janet has always been spectacular…even without the strongest of vocals…her music is timeless and still most enjoyable!

  4. Yas!!!! Great post!

    And the “Velvet Rope” album remains my fav. Janet record. 🙂

  5. Damn! So very few performers can do it like this anymore.

  6. i remember Ms. Madonna performed on the same show that night and was overshadowed by Janet…now that says alot about Janets talent. I love this performance, it was full of raw emotion and attitude. Nobody can do it like Janet, noboday!!!

  7. Sista, it is funny that you post this and then Rihanna kicks off her tour last night in Baltimore (?) and performs a laptop dance that immediately reminded me of Janet’s lap dance during her All For You tour. Yes, Ms. Janet – GET IT!

  8. Yeah Janet had to really push to make this one happen, and it’s a good thing she did. Love her.

  9. Janet has it, Rihanna dont there is a difference.

  10. difference between janet and rhianna is simply, sparkle. janet has that sparkle, that you are immediately drawn to. she allowed the message to be heard. rhianna may have great content and thought provoking songs, but it gets lost in translation. you can’t focus on someone’s social commentary if they are overtly sexual. janet used her performances for many years to be about the art of dance and music, poor Rhianna has people telling her that she has to be over the top sexual to present a song.and that’s not the case, because the girl is talented. is she on iconic status like janet. no, but then again noone in rhianna era or day is on the iconic status of janet . to be an icon, you have to be on a different level. janet learned from the King, so that was to be expected, rhianna is learning from her peers with the same amount of talent and creativity as she, that’s the difference.

  11. Man down was a great song and an even better video, What about touched me, Both of these women’s take on abuse was amazing. People will always find things to complain, we are all confident with women half naked gyrating singing some bs about being in the club, but the minute they touch on real life issues, people want to form committees, Shame on it all.

  12. let me clarify: i’m looking at the janet pic, above , where she is fully clothed. like i said, for years janet performed songs fully clothed, so you got the message. whereas rhianna can sing her song with the same message, but because she isn’t fully clothed many times, people don’t hear the message. some do but not all. and my thing is this, she’s a talented girl that she doesn’t have to be half naked.

  13. I can hear both messages in both women’s songs and both of these songs have touched me in away that alot of the music today hasnt. To me, personally I can appreciate both Janet’s and Rihanna’s sexuality because that’s who they are as women and I will not let their sexuality undermine what they sing and perform about. Maybe because I have a more open mind than others to know that you dont have to be in Nun’s attire to know that you as a WOMAN have NO RIGHT to be physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, or sexually harmed/abused etc…

    I LOVE THIS PERFORMANCE. You know Janet meant and felt every word in that song, gave me goosebumps. I know big bro is/was so proud of his baby sis. *Tears* Love you Janet.

  14. Plain and simple. Janet knows how to do it.

  15. Janet started out as a tomboy and gradually expressed her sexuality in a tasteful manner with each album. That’s something Ciara should’ve done but that’s another subject. lol Janet always teases and hints at her sexuality making people want more. Rihanna is a lost little girl who acts trashy and plain nasty for no good reason other than money and attention. She has a limited vocabulary. Theres nothing there. Rihanna is empty inside. Thats the difference.

  16. AMEN! As much respect Janet already gets, she still doesn’t get nearly the props she deserves.

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